Biological Determinism (con’t)

A few more thoughts on the matter of biological determinism.

When it comes to issues of sexism and gender, I know a lot of progressive people who buy into the notion of biological determinism. I often hear the same people complain about sexism one moment and then muse upon the ways in which women and men are “wired differently” during the next.

I have a question for folks like that. When you ponder the horror of racism, do you ponder how the relationships between people of differing ethnicities are entrenched in biology and evolution? Do you quietly dismiss the possibility of racial equality as biologically implausible? Do you dismiss the possibility of social change as running counter to a biological reality that leads different races into behaving in different ways?

I’ll bet you don’t. I’ll bet you’d consider someone who engages in such thinking as backwards, retrogressive bigots. You are open minded. You aren’t prejudiced. You could never bring yourself to believe in such notions, right?

Well, if you believe that the differences in women’s and men’s behaviors are governed by biology, how many steps away from generalizing these notions to race and ethnicity are you?

Think about that for a while.


~ by timberwraith on June 5, 2008.

4 Responses to “Biological Determinism (con’t)”

  1. There are unequivocal differences, biologically, between men and women. There are unequivocal differences (perhaps less of them) between black people and white people. Case in point: white people have white skin, black people do not. Women have breasts, men do not. Biological differences exist – do you not think that equality is now being boiled down to these “simplistic” ways of representation, when, really, equality is about treatment of an individual or a group, it’s not about them any more.

  2. Actually, Rosemary, white people do -not- all have “white skin,” black people do -not- all have “black skin;” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard/overheard sentiments like,

    “Oh. I didn’t know you were black.”

    –meaning, they didn’t “count” as black if they were “something else,” i.e. from the West Indies; or they were so lightskinned that the person in question assumed that of course they wouldn’t have any nonwhite ancestry. And, more important, reassess given that new information: otherwise why mention it? “White” is a concept. Read “Down These Mean Streets” sometime.

    anyway: yeah, timberwraith, I agree with you. I just don’t -care- what the origin of x characteristic is, mostly: the real thing to “examine” is why it matters so bloody much.

  3. Those are all good points, belldame. Racial and ethnic labels are often quite arbitrary.

    I’m white, but what exactly does “white” really mean? My heritage is a mixture of people from several different ethnicities, each with their own supposedly shared physical and cultural characteristics. Other people labeled as white can contain an entirely different mix of ethnicities and still share the label of “white” with me.

    The only consistent characteristic I can see is the social status assigned to white people relative to other people in a social system that is riddled with inequity. Here in the US, Racial/ethnic categories seem to be more about power than any other shared set of characteristics—and of course, white people have the greatest access to power, while everyone else is left to fight over the scraps.

  4. Albinos have white skin. White people have various skin colors. Noel Ignatiev put it best – “race is a biological fiction but a sociological fact.”

    Either way, even if genders are different on average, it doesn’t mean everyone within a gender should be the same. Let people be who they are. If men are really meant to be masculine, they will be. If women are really meant to be feminine, they will be. No point in arguing about it. If you can actually change nature, why not do it?

    I’m biologically predisposed to eventually being diabetic, so should I just give up the fight and embrace diabetes?

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